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FEBRUARY 7, 2001

Coulthard puts marriage plans on hold as he bids for title

DAVID COULTHARD has postponed his plans to marry top model Heidi Wichinski in a bid to focus his entire efforts on winning the 2001 World Championship in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/15 which was unveiled at the Valencia circuit here today.

As the 30-year old Scot prepares for his record sixth season as Mika Hakkinen's team-mate in the top British team, he confirmed that he and Heidi had agreed to put their plans on hold for the time being.

"Heidi and I have a very busy schedule," he said. "I think everybody knows that the amount of personal commitment needed by a Grand Prix driver in terms of both racing and testing doesn't leave a lot of time for personal things.

"I am trying to focus the maximum this year of getting the best out of myself, the car and the team. So I'm afraid that weddings and other social events are on the back burner."

The McLaren-Mercedes squad was obviously proud of the efforts which have gone into the new MP4/16 which was tested for two days in conditions of some secrecy at Valencia prior to the official unveiling.

"We don't want to dwell too much on the past," said TAG McLaren group chairman and CEO Ron Dennis, "but we can learn from it. This year we will be even more inward looking in our efforts. This may make us seem even greyer, but I'm sorry, but we're determined to succeed."

Coulthard added that he was highly impressed by the initial shakedown during which the new MP4/16 had covered 500km without any mechanical problems. "It was one of the very best and trouble-free roll-outs of a new car that we've ever," he said.

"We did 50 laps on Monday, 70 laps on Tuesday. We're very excited to see how it compares with the opposition in testing."

Mika Hakkinen, meanwhile, laughingly admitted that life as a parent of six week old Hugo has understandably caused more than few sleepless nights. "I haven't quite moved onto the sofa in the living room yet," he said. "but it sometimes seems quite close."

According to Ron Dennis, additional responsibility will fall onto the shoulders of newly recruited test driver Alexander Wurz this year.

"The role of the test driver this year is even more important than last year because of the tire development priorities," he said. "The development cars that we built - the MP4/15-Ks - are perfect for tire development, so at some tests we could have as many as four cars.

"We will eventually build two MP4/16s for the test team, but the intermediate cars can be configured in comparable trim to the new cars which will save us time."

Dennis also emphasized that the team is putting a huge premium on technical reliability, the latest Mercedes F0110K V10 engine completing 23,000km of testing on the transient dynamometers at Brixworth (Ilmor) and Stuttgart (Mercedes) in addition to around 10,000km on the circuit installed in the interim chassis.

Intriguingly, while the MP4/16 represents a completely new package, the evolutionary Mercedes F0110K engine - still a 72-degree V10, relatively narrow by current F1 standards - transmits its 820bhp through a revised, optimized version of last year's seven-speed longitudinal transmission.

This a major story in itself, although Newey remains diplomatically non-committal when pressed on the matter. For the past two years McLaren and Mercedes have collaborated on the development of a sophisticated torque split differential about which the FIA was briefed at every stage.

The governing body gave its approval all down the line until, according to a senior designer from a rival team who attended the relevant F1 technical working group meeting, FIA technical delegate did a volte face - following a letter of objection from Ferrari - and decreed the new McLaren transmission illegal.

McLaren had no choice to accept the decision, but at least secured a quid-pro-quo with Ferrari that it would not rock the boat on the issue - in exchange for Ferrari agreeing to the reintroduction of traction control from the start of 2001. Ferrari then had second thoughts about the deal, delaying the reintroduction of such electronic systems until the fifth race of the season.